Companies with women leaders have shown to be financially resilient which is important during COVID and demonstrated the need to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mariya Pylypiv, Ph.D., Founder and Vice-Chairwoman, UpHealth Holdings. Dr. Mariya Pylypiv also serves as an Investment Banker and Corporate Development Vice President for a top-tier accounting firm, as well as serves on advisory boards for companies in digital health, drone, and investment management end markets. UpHealth (www.uphealthinc.com) is a global comprehensive digital health technology and tech-enabled services platform (the “Platform”) that empowers providers, health systems and payors globally to manage care for people with complex medical, behavioral and social needs, while dramatically improving access to primary care.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My backstory starts in Ukraine, where I am originally from. I came to the US as an exchange student. I was selected by a US government-sponsored program called FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange program) that brought students from post-USSR countries to US for 1 year for high school study. During high school, I realized that I wanted to come back to the land of opportunities. I completed college in Ukraine and returned to the US where I pursued a Ph.D. in economics. This was the most trying time in my life, but it focused me on the end goal and to never give up despite all obstacles. My research focused on microfinance which is often used as an important financial vehicle to promote female empowerment in developing countries. I really wanted my work to be impactful for others! Upon graduation, I joined a quantitative machine learning hedge fund. I got to work on developing research strategies and also oversaw daily operations and trading for the fund. But I was missing meaning in the work I was doing. Then, I met my co-founder of UpHealth Dr. Kathuria. We originally talked about using my background for non-profit work, but it quickly shifted as he described his vision of the digital healthcare platform. That conversation and many more that followed inspired me to create a solution that can facilitate easier healthcare encounters. We had many models and ideas that we worked on over years, and finally, about 2 years ago we came up with the business model that is UpHealth.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Nothing specific comes to mind. It’s is all about the overall experience. I would compare it to a roller coaster, with many ups and downs. My partner who witnesses my journey said that to him from outside it feels like the most dramatic and surreal show one can watch. But for me, this is the driving force that keeps me up at night and gets me up early every morning.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As a Ukrainian, I don’t get overly involved in American politics. However, this past Fall, my boyfriend became a naturalized US citizen, so I decorated our Boston apartment with US flags. To my surprise, one of the folks on a Zoom call with me asked if I was trying to signal my membership in a particular political party. I quickly reassured him that there were no hidden messages and made sure to start using a virtual background so folks don’t look for clues when there are none.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would say I have been very lucky. First I am grateful for my family and the support they always gave me throughout any challenges I experienced. I come from a very strong women-led family line, and I have had amazing examples starting from my grandmother who was in charge of more than 20 restaurants in the USSR, to my mother that is one of the 50 top nationally recognized accountants in Ukraine, to my sister that is a leading researcher in the field of gerontology and quality of life.
And the other basket, I would allocate to my work partner and UpHealth co-founder Dr. Kathuria. We have built a very powerful team. Each of us has our own strength, with experience, background and network that was required to make UpHealth happen. He has witnessed a work partner and equal in me since we met, and it was very important to build it into a successful partnership.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I think we will see this trend changing in the future with the evolution of societal norms and expectations about women in leadership. But also I do think one of the contributing reasons is access to capital. I have been in the hedge fund world, and most analysts and fund managers are male. I have also been an investment banker, and yet again this is a predominantly male-led industry.
I have recently attended a women’s circle that included private equity, venture capital and investment bankers. One of the women shared that she always gets excluded from the social events organized by her colleges as she is not “one of the boys”. Often, it’s these opportunities for men to socialize, the so-called “old white boys network”, that end up creating opportunities for men and not for women. As part of these networks, men network with each other, offer deals, etc., and women get left out. It is frustrating and inexcusable that in 2021, women are still held back from leadership opportunities due to individual and system-level factors and expectations.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Workforce diversity is the answer! We need expectations placed on companies and also incentives are given that allow for a workplace to be accessible by different groups, and I am not only talking about gender, it includes race and sexuality. There is so much we can learn from each other.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
I think it is equivalent to asking why men should be founders. Each of us has our own strength, and they are not defined by our gender. We should empower and pursue our strength and build on them no matter whether it is a woman or a man. A few reasons below:
- Companies with diverse leadership have more creative solutions and innovative ideas.
- We can better meet consumer needs if we are not only representing the white men in our products and offerings.
- Companies with women leaders have shown to be financially resilient which is important during COVID and demonstrated the need to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?
Not sure I am aware of particular myths but I have seen a few stories how one needs to be a genius to be a founder. Of course, while certain skill level and training is required, the qualities that are often attributed to founders can be that Founders are just people that do their work because they believe in the cause and are passionate. And once you have a passion for what you do, you will forget about sleep, food and everything else around you. We see many geniuses who chose to devote themselves for social causes, and instead of founding enterprises, they will be found in research, science or non-profit organizations.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Perseverance and persistence are key. When I was a teenager my favorite poster was of a frog being swallowed by a stork but still kicking and fighting even despite being in the stork’s mouth, and the slogan said: “never give up”. That’s something I still do, I don’t quit.
I think anyone can become a founder as long as they are willing to go through ups and downs, and understand there is no smooth sailing with being an entrepreneur. As long as you prepare yourself to adversities and the risk of failure — you are good to go. As even if you fail once, you will learn from it and the next project will not have the same mistake.
It’s similar to babies learning to walk. You will fail, but you will get up, and you will fail many times until you learn to walk and then run. Just persistence and perseverance and soon you will learn to run.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Oh, there so many things I wished I knew, and still wish to learn. But we all will learn in the process.
1. Trust your intuition. There are several instances where I had high degree of concern over either individual or deal structures and each time that concern proved correct.
2.Have a business partner you can trust. There are people that you bring that change as they get to experience success, and they lose loyalty. Having a strong trusting relationship with your business partner is critical to ensuring success.
3. Failure is part of the process. You must have strength and power to get yourself going no matter how hard you fall. Each fall is a lesson that will make you stand stronger next time.
4. Be proactive with building your network. When building your business never underestimate the power of relationships. One funny example is that I took an interview from a prestigious university for the role of professor as I really wanted to meet one of their faculty to offer him an advisory role in my venture at that time. Overall, I network buildings to be critical to be a successful entrepreneur.
5. Be Passionate about what you do. My goal was always to find a venture through which I can help improve the lives of others. I know that with UpHealth we can positively impact millions of lives across the globe by delivering affordable, quality care. My passion to bring about real change in healthcare has been the driving force to me daily, and I think it is a significant part of the formula of my success.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We want to help improve the quality of care delivery across the globe and make it easier for providers to deliver care to patients. That means we must deliver high-quality care at low costs in order to reach underserved areas.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am a strong believer that financial literacy is one of the critical tools that can empower women and bring more equality between genders. A lot of inequality is driven by financial power and decision-making.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
There are so many people I admire but if I had to name one, it’s Cheryl Sandberg the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook and the founder of LeanIn.Org. As a Ph.D. in finance, I was contemplating an academic career. However, I read Cheryl’s book “Lean in”, which talked about the value of joining smaller organizations and pursuing one’s passion. It inspired me to do the work that I am doing and continues to inspire me to persevere as I work toward my goal.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.